The Fall of the House of Boehner: Has Comprehensive Immigration Reform Been Buried Alive?

After the Senate successfully passed the bipartisan Senate bill, S.744 in June, it seems the Republican-led House of Representatives, via Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), has buried Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) alive, covering it with the ominous budgetary catastrophe and subsequent government shutdown.

Cataleptically focusing on immigration reform, the House has passed five piecemeal bills since June:

  • The Agricultural Guestworker Act (the “AG Act”) of 2013 grants a total of 500,000 eligible recipients H-2C status each year for a maximum stay of 18 months. Growers may either petition for an H-2C worker before admittance to the United States or, if designated as registered agricultural employer by the Department of Agriculture, employers may employ H-2C workers under the “At-Will” component of the AG Act.
  • The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (the “SAFE Act”) is designed to strengthen federal immigration enforcement and provide states and cities with congressional authorization to assist in enforcing federal immigration law and to enact and enforce their own immigration laws consistent with federal law. The SAFE Act also expands the types of serious criminal activity for which aliens are removable, including drunk driving, failure to register as a sex offender, criminal gang membership, rape and manslaughter.
  • The Legal Workforce Act seeks to deter illegal immigration by altering and expanding the E-verify program. For instance, the Legal Work Force Act replaces the current paper-based I-9 systems with an electron work eligibility check; phases-in mandatory E-verify participation for all employers; allows individuals and guardians to “lock” their social security numbers; and grants employers a safe harbor from prosecution of they use E-Verify in “good faith.”
  • The Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visa Act (the “SKILLS Act”) allocates green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, increases H-1B visas, repeals the employment-based per-country cap, establishes a new entrepreneur visa program and seeks to strengthen the investor visa program by replacing “nonessential immigration programs” with those that “better meet our country’s interest.”
  • The Border Security Results Act of 2013 requires DHS to develop a comprehensive strategy, including biometric exit capabilities, to gain knowledge and understanding of current illicit cross-border activity (“situational awareness”) and maintain a condition in which there is not lower than 90 percent illegal border effectiveness rate (“operational control”) by producing frequent reports and metrics to be reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GOA).

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the October of 2013, when the clouds hung oppressively low in Congress, the House Democrats thunderously announced the resurrection of CIR by introducing H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. H.R. 15 is modeled after S.744, trading the zealous Corker-Hoeven border-surge amendment for the more bipartisan Border Security Results Act of 2013. In addition, among other key components, H.R. 15 establishes an independent DHS Border Oversight Task Force; allows certain noncitizens who are currently unlawfully present and who entered the U.S. before December 31, 2011, to adjust status to that of Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) and eventually adjust to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status; provides “Blue Card” status for certain eligible agricultural workers and a path to citizenship; and introduces the merit-based visa and points system and establishes eligibility criteria for merit-based immigrants.

Thus and thus, and not otherwise, the Democrats now call upon Speaker Boehner to answer the knocking of CIR at the door, and it remains to be seen if H.R. 15 will be a phantasm of bipartisan effort or a welcomed revival of the CIR discussion.